Whether it’s their favorite toy, a bowl of kibble or a soft spot on the sofa, dogs can get possessive of things (and people!) they consider valuable. Although seeing your pooch prize something that much might be adorable, the cuteness quickly fades away when your dog starts growling or biting to protect their “possessions”.
This type of canine behavior is called resource guarding or possessive aggression. Even though it’s completely normal for your dog to act like this, it doesn’t mean you should encourage them or ignore this problem.
Find out more about resource guarding and how to prevent it:
- What Is Resource Guarding in Dogs?
- Reasons for Dog Resource Guarding
- How to Prevent Resource Guarding Between Dogs
- Signs Your Dog Has Food Aggression
- How Do You Stop a Dog from Guarding Food
- Cocker Rage: Myth or Fact?
- How To Deal With Dog Aggression
What Is Resource Guarding in Dogs?
Resource guarding in dogs is exactly what the name suggests — it’s when dogs protect their valued resources, such as food or territory, by displaying aggressive behavior.
However, there are different levels of resource guarding in dogs, ranging from fairly harmless to severe aggression. If your pooch starts eating faster when you approach them while they eat, or runs away with their toy when they see another dog, it’s safe to say there is not much to worry about.
In case your dog attacks other dogs over territory, or growls or snaps at you over a bowl of food, you’ll need to correct their behavior to prevent potential aggression problems in the future.
Reasons for Dog Resource Guarding
Although there are some theories that specific breeds are more likely to display resource guarding behavior (more on that below), resource guarding is not a breed-exclusive problem.
The most common reasons for resource guarding are:
- Past trauma
- Multiple pets in the household (competition)
If your pooch exhibits symptoms of resource guarding, it won’t be difficult to get to the root of the problem. For example, if you see a puppy guarding their food bowl even though they’re still a baby, chances are it’s a trait inherited from one or both parents.
The third option is the most common one, and it stems from jealousy and competition. Naturally, dogs feel more inclined to protect their valuables if there are other pets in the house that they see as potential threats. Even if it means fighting over cuddles and not kibble!
How to Prevent Resource Guarding Between Dogs
Whether it’s a dog guarding food from another dog, or defending their spot for napping, possessive aggression can be a big problem if you have multiple pets. Not only there’s a risk that your resource guarding dog could harm another pet, their aggressive behavior can also disrupt the whole household dynamic.
When it comes to resource guarding between dogs, the trick is to react fast and persistently work on the issue.
Here are some dog training tips that can help you solve your furball’s resource guarding habits:
Use Treats as Positive Reinforcement
There’s nothing more efficient than using treats to encourage wanted behavior, and the same goes for solving resource guarding problems. If your dog figures out that sharing their toys or tolerating company during dinner time means tasty treats, you can bet they’ll forget all about growling and snapping.
Use a firm, calm voice when giving commands to your dog, and after your pooch starts relaxing instead of being on guard, reward their good behavior with their favorite chewy snack or delicious treat.
When you’re at work, treat cameras such as Petcube Bites can help you keep your mischievous pup in line and prevent potential conflicts over food or toys. Use the two-way audio function to voice the command, and reward your pooch’s obedience by dispensing a tasty treat!
Focus on Desensitization
This technique is a great way to get your pooch to stop feeling anxious or overly protective of their possessions. By gradually introducing so-called triggering elements, like the presence of another dog or touching their bowl while they eat, you’ll desensitize your dog to actions that used to stress them out and induce resource guarding behavior. Of course, you should always start with low-intensity actions and work your way up to triggering situations.
For example, if your four-legged baby turns into a beast when you get near them during mealtime, start by standing in another corner of the room. Then, slowly, start reducing the distance between you, until you get to a stage when you can comfortably pet your dog while they eat or touch their food without an aggressive response.
Even though taking away toys or rewards can be a great method to help your dog recognize unwanted behavior, in case of resource guarding, this technique can only be counterproductive. Resource guarding dogs are always anxious that their food, toys or other possessions will be taken away, which is why they become defensive or aggressive when they feel threatened. By taking away their valuables, you’re only reinforcing their fear, rather than actually getting to the root of the problem.
Instead using punishment when your dog displays aggressive behavior, you should withdraw and let them calm down. Further antagonizing them will only make the matters worse!
Signs Your Dog Has Food Aggression
Dogs can get possessive over just about anything you can imagine. Some dogs go crazy over dirty socks; others defend their tattered toys or don’t let anyone touch their owner. But the most common object of resource guarding in dogs is, by far, food.
Their basic instinct is to protect their food source and hide it from potential predators. Translated into a domesticated, modern setting, this means that some dogs will have an aggressive reaction if someone gets close to their kibble.
Typical signs of dog food aggression include:
- Growling while eating
- Defending bones or other treats
- Snapping, biting and growling if you get close to their food bowl
- Dog guarding food but not eating
- Attacking or growling at other dogs during meal time
- Eating much faster when someone is near (the mildest type of food aggression)
Although this type of resource guarding is more problematic with adult dogs who can hurt you or other pets in the household, food aggression in the puppy stage of development should not be overlooked. Just like with other behavioral problems, it’s precisely at that age when the problem is easiest to correct.
How Do You Stop a Dog from Guarding Food
Breaking any habit in dogs is a process that requires patience and persistence, and it’s no different when it comes to a resource guarding dog. Especially if the resource in question is their meal!
Learning how to stop food aggression in dogs should be an essential part of your dog training routine, regardless of whether your pooch exhibits the classic signs of resource guarding in dogs or not.
To prevent puppy food aggression, make sure to spend time with them while they eat. Pet them while they munch on their puppy kibble and occasionally put your hand in their bowl. This way, your fur baby learns that it’s OK for someone to touch their food and that it doesn’t mean they’ll stay hungry.
In case you have an adult dog that aggressively guards their food, try these methods:
Teach Your Dog to Share
Sharing is caring, and your dog needs to learn this ASAP. But how do you teach a dog to share food if they growl when anyone comes close? An effective trick is to offer them a chewy treat while you keep one end of the treat in your hand. To be able to gnaw at it, your dog will have to tolerate you being near and touching their food. When they pass the treat test without growling or snapping, move on to desensitizing mealtime.
Pet Them During Meals
Of course, you shouldn’t pet food aggressive dogs of the blue, but rather when you’ve mastered the previous step of the process. If a dog is calm while you’re near them during meal time, the next and final step is getting them to feel relaxed if you touch them or their food. Start by talking to them in a reassuring, relaxed voice while they’re eating. Try petting them or place your hand near the bowl, simultaneously encouraging them with praise. However, if your dog has severe food aggression and is prone to biting and attacking, you might want a get a consultation or evaluation from a professional dog trainer before you try this method.
Solving Food Aggression Between Dogs
In case your dog doesn’t mind you being around their food, but goes ballistic when another dog comes near them in the middle of their meal, you’ll need a slightly different approach. Taking baby steps is key for food aggression directed at other dogs as well, but you’ll need to be even more careful and cautious with this type of resource guarding, to prevent fights breaking out or one of your dogs getting injured.
The safest method includes having someone help you keep eyes on both dogs, as well as maintaining a safe distance between them. Use leashes to control the situation, and gradually reduce the distance between dogs during meals, being careful to notice if the food aggressive dog gets uncomfortable or stressed.
Cocker Rage: Myth or Fact?
We’ve all heard the term “dangerous breed” before and, hopefully, most of us know that stereotypes about specific dog breeds are often just misconceptions. The same goes for the so-called “cocker rage” syndrome, which has been unjustly attributed to Cocker Spaniels.
In case you don’t know what is cocker rage, it’s another name for Sudden Onset Aggression (SOA), which manifests as an unexpected attack or display of aggression, often against their owners, after which the dog has no recollection of the act. Not only that these fits are sudden, they are also very surprising for the owner, since these were not aggressive dogs to begin with.
Although Cocker Spaniels can have this affliction, they are not the only breed prone to this rare syndrome.
However, even though some researchers think that cocker rage might be caused by inherited genes, it doesn’t mean that food aggression in dogs or resource guarding are behaviors typical to any breed. Dogs of any age, breed or sex can exhibit aggression and resource guarding behaviors, which is why it’s important to prevent them.
How To Deal With Dog Aggression
I’ve already mentioned some useful tips and tried-and-true methods for dealing with food aggressive dogs, or dogs who guard their toys, territory or family members. But learning how to stop a dog from guarding food or other valuables is not all you need to know. In most cases, learning how to understand this behavior and cope with it is equally important.
Seeing your precious, cuddly pooch bare their teeth at you or snapping at their furry companions can be stressful, devastating, and, sometimes, scary. But it’s important to realize that this doesn’t have to mean your dog is aggressive.
Even if it might seem different, resource guarding is a common, normal behavior for dogs. When you recognize this as just another part of their nature, it will be easier to approach the problem rationally and start working towards a resolution.
And don’t worry. Your furry bundle of joy will break this bad habit in no time!